Friday, July 29, 2011

Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry, one of my all-time favourite books on poetry. I never get bored of flicking through it, there's always a new thought or insight into someone's writing process which I pick up on depending where I am in my own writing. It features statements on poetry from around sixty odd poets right throughout the twentienth century from Pound and Yeats to current poets such as Selima Hill and Paul Muldoon. The statements from modern poets have been specifically commissioned for the book and the statements from older poets have been gleamed from their own writings from essays, letters and  interviews where they intentionally or sometimes perhaps inadvertantly give away an insight into their own writing processes.
The introduction itself is a fine and thought-provoking piece of writing, here's a snippet:
"No good poem ever steps fully into the light or becomes completely accessible, but remains, instead, almost infinitely approachable. This dark is nurturing: belief in it results in the uncomfortable conviction that it is not the poem's job to explain itself. Rather, the poem is there to affect the reader, to mean something to them that is immediate and powerful, however complex that encounter may prove to be."

I was pleased to get my contributor's copy of Gutter Mag in this morning, it was great reading poems from JoAnne McKay, Colin Will, Sally Evans and fellow Calder Wood Press poet Judith Taylor. It really is a fantastic magazine, packed full of short stories as well as poems. I haven't read the stories yet, just the poems. I particularly enjoyed Dilys Rose's poem 'Yellow Polka Dot Dress': "In the style of downtown Louisaiana, circa 1955 - / Was that when Mum and Retro were born?" (actually my mum was born in 1955 so that made me smile!). Also liked Robert Marsland's 'Poetry' with its "white broth / power", Rizanwan Akhtar's 'Bride from Lahore': "wobbling on the pointed heels / smile-collecter she walks / with a market-logic", Jim Stewart's 'Hive' sequence, Jim Carruth's rural poems and loads more including Gaelic translations, translations from Arabic and translations from a contemporary Swiss poet.

The Editorial was a very interesting read, talking about the lack of quality poems submitted in Scots: "Good writing in Scots is not a matter of changing was to wiz", this made me smile as I thought about my experiment the other year of 'translating' one of my poems into Scots! It raises a lot of interesting questions about the diminished ability of Scottish writers to write in Scots. I'm the first to admit that I don't / can't write in Scots, I maybe throw in the odd Scots word but to write a whole poem in Scots would require supreme effort. Yet perhaps I ought to be making that effort, afterall I do speak Scots to a certain degree, but it doesn't come natural to write in it. Part of the problem is there doesn't seem to be strict grammatical rules governing Scots so trying to write in it feels like abandoning all the ingrained certainty of the english language and that's not easy to do. Plus there's that niggling feeling that Scots is just poor / lazy english, these days they encourage school children to write in Scots, they certainly didn't do that when I was at school! But it's about the preservation of indigenous culture, heritage and identity and what it comes down to is the fact that "people are not engaging in written form with the language they speak on a daily basis". Poetry is about communication and I guess I'm missing out on being able to communicate a core part of my identity by not writing in Scots, coming to realise this makes the issue suddenly more important to me than it was previously.


Elizabeth Rimmer said...

A brilliant and inspiring book - I love it. Got the Gutter yesterday too - can't wait!

Andrew McCallum Crawford said...

Interesting point about Scots / Dialect. I remember my days as a student, teaching English in a primary school in Glasgow way back in 1989. I had all the kids writing poetry in dialect - their efforts were destined for a wall display for the forthcoming parents evening. Before the teacher put them up, she said, 'Andy, better get the children to fix the spelling. The parents won't like it.' Changed days? Perhaps.

Marion McCready said...

yes, it's a real gem of a book isn't it?

ha, I can imagine! yes it is changed days, from what I hear the scottish gov't are doing quite a lot to promote Scots / dialect in schools now so it maybe an entirely different story for the next generation.

Jim Murdoch said...

Someone bought me a copy of Strong Words a while ago and it sits beside my chair in my office. I agree, it is a wonderful book to pick up and read bits from at random. As for Gutter I’ve only tried to get in once. I’ve been really bad this year about sending stuff out.

I have mixed feelings about Scots. I’ve done a few things and they’ve all been published but my real problem is that I don’t think in Scots – I translate into it. I had much the same problem with my novel Milligan and Murphy which is set in an imaginary Ireland. Ken Armstrong very kindly went through it looking at my Irishisms and he didn’t have too much to criticise but the fact is I am still writing in a tongue that’s not one I speak naturally and just hearing the words in an Irish accent as you write doesn’t ensure that it flows properly. Yes, by birth I’m a Scot, but my heritage is English and my tongue is English even if I don’t have a lot of time for most of them.

Marion McCready said...

good point, jim. I would have thought it would be easier / more natural to write in Scots in fiction than poetry. glaswegian is considered an acceptable form of Scots, I'd have thought that that would be fairly natural to yourself. I find when I'm writing casually online I have a tendency / desire to lapse into glaswegian because I guess I do think and talk that way in general - not full-on dialect of course, we dunoonites are a bit posher :) the language of poetry on the other hand is so constrained and formal that I'm not sure how to bring together Scots and poetry. perhaps that's just my problem, if I can loosen up the language in my poems then writing in Scots might become a possibility. there are certainly a lot of good Scots poems out there, Kathleen Jamie's 'Arraheids' is one of my favourites.